Liberals bringing legislation to de-fang the Ontario Municipal Board

Liberals bringing legislation to de-fang the Ontario Municipal Board

The province is ready to give the Ontario Municipal Board its most substantial makeover in more than a decade with an eye to empowering local policymakers and helping residents access hearings.

Municipal Affairs Minister Bill Mauro and Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said Tuesday legislation would be coming before the house rises for the summer on June 1 to gut the OMB – the independent tribunal that serves as an arbitrator on land-use disputes between cities, developers and residents – and replace it with a Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

The overhaul comes after a lengthy review and, if the legislation passes, would “shelter” certain types of decisions from appeal, thereby empowering local land-use decision-making and expediting the process, the ministers said.

“The main focus … is providing local deference for local municipal decision-making,” Mauro said.

Naqvi added the changes would “truly” make the tribunal a dispute settlement board, and not “a body like the OMB that can create policy at the same time as our provincial and local governments.”

“You will have better decisions, faster decisions so that they can do what they do best, which is to build homes while municipal decision-making is restored and maintained as well,” Naqvi said.

Under the proposed changes to the Planning Act, the tribunal would only be able to overturn a decision if it doesn’t comply with official provincial or municipal plans, as opposed to current practice that allows the board to overturn decisions if the city did not come to the “best” planning conclusion.

The municipality would then have 90 days to make a more appropriate application – the board would no longer be able to replace the local decision with a proposal of its own. If the city’s second attempt still doesn’t comply, the tribunal would get the final word.

Certain planning decisions would be shielded from the board’s purview, including plans already approved by the province. Cities would also be able to block appeals of decisions they make around major transit stations.

Part of the idea is to transfer some of the burden on to local appeal bodies, which would be given more authority and the power to hear appeals on site plans, in addition to minor variances and consents. Toronto is the only city where the local appeal body is fully operational, a maneuver granted through the City of Toronto Act. Mauro said 70 per cent of decisions over the past decade could have avoided going to the OMB had Toronto's local tribunal been functional.

The OMB has long divided civic advocates, urban planners and developers. Whereas the former charge the tribunal is too development-friendly, builders have lauded it as protection against the not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) types opposed to development.

The Liberals also say there will be more “predictability” for developers, and free legal advice, and in some cases representation, for residents filing an appeal.

PC Leader Patrick Brown said he was skeptical about what the changes would do to address housing supply in the province or ease up the “slow, arduous process.”

“At first glance, it does not appear like it’s going to be a way to get more supply in the market,” he said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath – whose party has thrice tabled a private member’s bill to remove Toronto from OMB oversight – said the proposal was “a long time coming.”

“It’s about time that the Liberals have finally gotten the picture and recognized that municipalities need to have a better ability to manage and plan their own communities,” she said.

Sabrina Nanji

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